Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" season three, episode five coming up just as soon as I establish the ownership of my ankle...
NOTE: This and all subsequent "FNL" season three reviews were written after viewing the DirecTV cut, which can be several minutes longer than the NBC version. So both my review and the early comments may refer to scenes that were not shown on NBC.
Sigh... after the emotional highs of last week -- easily the best episode since the first season, and one of my favorite "FNL"s ever -- I suppose it was inevitable that the next episode would disappoint. But did it have to disappoint in so many ways?
Outside of Saracen's story and the Street half of the Street/Riggins plot, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" was slow and/or repetitive of other storylines the show had done in the past -- and, in some cases, weren't very good the first time around.
Was anyone clamoring for the return of Ferret Guy? (If you're going to bring back a recurring character from season two, you might as well show what happened to Santiago.) Did anyone need to see Tami again worry about Julie becoming too wild, and about Tyra potentially being a bad influence on her? (Yes, parents worry about this stuff with their kids all the time, but this was such an exact rehash of stories the show has done before that it was frustratingly dull.) Is there any way that Cowboy Cash isn't bad news for Tyra? And, if not, can we just skip ahead to the episode where he tries to get her hooked on cowboy candy along with him, or maybe even to the episode where Landry convinces her to clean up and have a little faith in herself?
And yet, the stuff in this episode that worked worked so well that I'm not too concerned. Even season one had a dud storyline here and there, and while that stands out more when there are only 13 episodes instead of 22 -- and when this could very well be the last season of the show -- it's not a sign of imminent creative doom, either.
Because Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are so great, it can be easy to overlook -- or, at least, to underpraise -- the work of everybody else, but Zach Gilford continues to bring it. The scene on the Saracen porch, where Eric delivered the bad news about JD McCoy getting the starting job right before Grandma and Shelby came home in a cheerful mood, was so intense because both Gilford and Chandler looked like they would rather be jammed with an electric cattle prod than have to stand on that porch one second longer while Grandma went on about how Eric walked on water. The locker room confrontation and Matt telling his mom about the situation were both just as good. It's a hard truth that Matt can give it his all, can do everything that's asked of him, and that still might not be enough when the second coming of Jason Street walks through the door. I suspect Saracen will be back under center at some point before the season is out, but football, like life, isn't always fair.
One complaint, even within that story: they wrote the climactic sequence of the big football game backwards. No way does the QB who just scrambled for the winning touchdown of a close game get ignored while the crowd cheers the name of the guy who moved the chains but came out for the big score. It would have made much better dramatic sense if Saracen were the one who did all the hard work, only for JD to get the glory because Eric sent him in for that quarterback keeper. (It also would have made more football sense; the defense would never expect the QB who runs the spread offense to be the one who scrambles with the ball.)
As for the first coming of Jason Street, it was nice to have the guy back. I suppose it made sense to delay his return until Smash was gone: there's not enough time as it is for all the characters who are going to be around a while longer without devoting two stories in each episode to the short-timers. I'm glad that the baby wasn't ignored -- looks like Erin listened to Jason when he pleaded with her to give the miracle pregnancy a chance -- but also that we didn't get a happily-ever-after scenario already. Jason and Erin had only just met, he's a couple of years out of high school and in a wheelchair, and this is a big mess. That makes sense. I imagine that, like Smash, Street will get his happy ending and wind up flipping Buddy's house for the cash he needs to make this family work, but it seems right that they're showing us the process along the way.
Some other thoughts:
* I was only half paying attention as the credits on my review screener rolled, but I don't remember seeing a picture of Smash, nor Gaius Charles' name at any point. Makes sense, if that was the case. Did anyone see or read Scott Porter in there?
* The return of Street also brings with it the return of Herc, who continues to be comedy gold while not being just comic relief. I like how obviously Herc likes the baby, and that for all his bluster, he knows what he's talking about most of the time.
* More great comedy: Landry listening to "November Rain" in the Landrymobile 2.0 while glaring at Tyra and Cash, while Matt complains that the power ballads are a bad cliche. It's always funny to see Matt with Landry, or even with Julie, because he becomes a much more verbal person when he's around a peer than he is around adults.
* And still more good comedy: Tim constantly quoting Buddy's line about rats fleeing a sinking ship and visionaries, and it working every time.
* And yet even more funny stuff: Grandma is "pretty serious about her cookies."
* I liked Street's pitch to Buddy, playing on the man's obsession with Panthers football to talk him into selling them the house, but I also wondered why he didn't bring up his relationship with Lyla. They dated forever and a day, and Buddy was like a second father to him. I know it ended badly -- and that Buddy got upset when Jason and Lyla were briefly engaged -- but that would have made an easy secondary tug at the heartstrings.
What did everybody else think?